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Unchain My Heart

He broke R&B music free of its tiny niche and presented it to people of all colors, sparking a love affair that has lasted for many generations. His music and genius has never grown stale, his tastes and styles expanding from gospel to pop to country and everything in between. His star on the Hollywood walk of fame does little to tell of the epic life that this man has led and given all this, it is sad to see such a great story retold as a cold, lifeless, regrettably boring script.

(Warning: There are very minor spoilers ahead)

It all starts out innocently enough. Ray’s childhood is unfortunate, but his family makes the best of it. He grew up in the confines of a poor Southern town, his single mother barely eeking out a living doing other people’s laundry. Then things get worse. Ray’s brother George drowns in a tub while Ray looks on. Ray loses his sight. Ray has to go away to school. Still, Ray doesn’t get down about all this. Instead, he immerses himself in music. He takes a liking to the piano which he picks up with ease. Unable to read music or see the keys, Ray is blessed with the ability to pick up on a note in an instant. He embraces his gifts and soon finds himself a full time musician, struggling to make a living just like anyone else.

From there, things start to get better for Ray, but the writing only gets worse. The amount of emotion injected into this script is almost nonexistent. It reads like a simple children’s book intended for adults only. See Ray sing. See Ray have sex. See Ray do drugs. See Ray get mad. You are an impartial viewer in Ray’s life. There is no narration to shed light on the details of these events. The film certainly isn’t a documentary. Its just scene after scene, tied together with no real purpose. A flipbook that repeats itself over and over again. You keep expecting someone in the film to have an engaging conversation, but there is no time for such nonsense when you absolutely must show Ray singing along to every single hit in his catalog (believe me, there are a lot).

I found myself not only bored but frustrated with the writer for not putting any effort into the script. For making every character, even Charles himself, a cardboard cutout of the real person. There are no opportunities to connect or associate with the people in Ray’s life. Hell, you can barely even keep track of the billions of them. Lets see… there’s his wife, his two sons, and… that guy. No one is memorable. No event is memorable. The whole thing is just one massive outline of Ray’s life. Someone forgot to fill in the details.

What really began to irk me reading this script is the author’s insistence on focusing heavily on the negative aspects of Ray’s life. Little time is given to his efforts as a civil rights leader. Little time is given to his effect on popular music. Instead, we have the film divided into three easy sections for us. Ray doing drugs. Ray sleeping around. Ray being a major asshole. You wouldn’t think it would be hard to make such a legendary man look good, but by the end of the read, you really dislike the guy altogether. I certainly don’t mind looking on the dark side of people’s lives, but that is really all this movie amounts to. I half expect Ray Charles to run for Governor of California. At least then there would be some explanation for why this ridiculous smear campaign exists.

I really wanted to like this script. I was looking forward to the movie. Now I plan to avoid it like the plague. Its flat, grossly unflattering, and an utter bore to sit through. If you’re a Ray Charles fan, or are even the least bit curious about his enigma, go pick up his autobiography, or look for a documentary on PBS. Don’t hold your breath for ‘Unchain My Heart’, you’ll be sorely disappointed to see two hours of Jamie Foxx lip-synching to Ray’s Greatest Hits and then revisiting his character from ‘Any Given Sunday’. This draft, dated August 16, 2002, is written by James L. White. Based on the life and times of Ray Charles.

Rating: D

The Ladykillers

The Coen brothers have worked with some of Hollywood’s finest talent and have sparked the careers of many new stars. While they lack the box office success of some of their brother-duo counterparts like the Wachowskis, Weitz, and even the Farrellys, the Coen brothers have made consistent quality films with imaginative stories, clever dialogue and above all, classic, unique, and thoroughly fascinating characters. In their next film (after the upcoming “Intolerable Cruelty”) they show no signs of letting up.

Continue reading “The Ladykillers”

Rating: A+

Winged Migration

As the film opens, a disclaimer states that no special effects were used for the filming; then it succeeds in making you gawk in absolute disbelief. You aren’t a person watching birds fly. You are a bird. You are in the driver’s seat, soaring hundreds of miles above canyonous mountain ranges, racing along at breathtaking speeds, skimming across rivers so wide they look like lakes. You are traveling from the cold barren reaches of the Artic, of Siberia, Antarctica, and vacationing in the vast deserts of Mexico, the coast of Africa, the Far East, South America, Australia, New York. Suddenly you begin to realize how different the world really is, despite the small world facade that technology creates. From the elegant, graceful cranes of China, to the unbelievably massive flocks of West Coast sea gulls, you begin to take note in their relation to their human counterparts. You begin to realize that these birds share the same world; the same climates, the same food, the same problems, and you see how their presence has made an impact on the lives and cultures of people all over the world. You begin to realize that you will never see birds the same way again.

The film tags along for every aspect of a bird’s life. You don’t miss a second. You wonder how on earth the filmmakers got some of the shots they did, how they were there for such incredible moments. The movie has only just begun and you’re begging for a ‘making of’ feature on the DVD. The film never bores. These birds have more personality and charisma in their day-to-day activities than any roomful of people. There are some sad scenes that induce feelings of guilt in people’s irresponsibility towards nature, but it’s hard to be saddened in the midst of such a joyful enlightenment. The birds struggle through different aspects of life just like you and me, and they prevail. A sort of inadvertent plot develops: Nature’s own brand of storytelling (emphasized by a beautiful soundtrack).

By the end of the film, you seriously begin to wonder if there is anything better than being a bird. The freedom of the open sky. The simplicity of nature. The movie is humbling in a way that makes you grateful to live in such a magnificent world. It puts your own life and purpose into some grand perspective. How many movies can claim thatr

Even if you hate documentaries and slept through high school, as long as you’ve an inkling of desire to experience that dream of flying in the most visceral, personal sense, go see “Winged Migration,” but don’t even bother watching it if you plan to wait for the DVD. “Winged Migration” is one of those few movies a year that can only be experienced on the big screen, and it’s an experience you won’t soon forget.

A+ all the way.

Running time: 98 minutes
Directed by: Jacques Cluzaud, Michel Debats, and Jacques Perrin

Rating: A+

Blade III

(Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead)

The action kicks off early in the film as Blade hunts down some mobile vampires in a high-speed chase that makes “2 Fast 2 Furious” look like kids on trikes. Realizing that they’ll never bring down the Daywalker with sheer force, the vampire collective sets him up, forcing him out into the spotlight and making him public enemy number one. Now Blade has two enemies: the vampires and the FBI, who think he is a psychopathic serial killer. To make matters worse, the vampires are busy planning to take control of the world from the humans. To do this they’ve unleashed the true heir to the throne, the Grandfather of all vampires: Dracula.

For centuries Sleeping Ugly has slept dormant, apart from the thriving world above. Awakened by the collective, Dracula is amazed by the shape the world has taken in his absence. The first of his kind, Dracula’s blood is pure. He walks in daylight, is invulnerable to silver, and can take the shape of any man. Acquiring a modern name, Drake, the vampire king joins his children and all hell breaks loose.

Early on in the film, the FBI raids Blade’s safe house. Whistler catches gunfire and sacrifices himself to save the operation, blowing the safe house to bits. Blade is drugged and taken in for questioning, but it isn’t long before he figures out that the vampires are running the operation from inside. Just before they take him away to plan his untimely death, he is busted out by the loud, jovial, and obnoxious Hannibal King, part of a sleeper cell of vampire hunters, set in motion by Whistler’s death. Also on the team is Whistler’s niece, Abigail. With three others, calling themselves the Nightstalkers, the group hatches a plan to stop the vampires dead in their tracks, for good. Easier said than done when you’re facing a monster the likes of Dracula.

David S. Goyer wrote the first two “Blade” movies (as well as a “Crow” sequel, “Dark City” and “Freddy vs. Jason”) and he adds on the role of director for this one as well. The script is action-packed and if Goyer can apply the same stylistic flair to the screen that Guillermo del Toro did, we have another bona fide hit on our hands. The story is light on drama and character development as you might expect it to be, but it is an entertaining read nonetheless. Goyer does fail to make use of the elements at hand though. He sets up an interesting angle by having the humans hunt Blade, but barely puts it to use. In a lot of ways, “Blade III” is just an amped up version of “Blade II,” but not enough to cause complaint. Goyer does a good job of taking what worked in the other films and applying it to the new storyline. This time there is an urgency in Blades crusade. The vampires are planning a sort of apocalyptic takeover and the biggest, baddest vampire ever is on the loose. Blade must be gung-ho in his actions without running back into the hands of the corrupt authorities. Success means no more bloodsuckers. Failure means no more humans. Cue up the techno music. Its ass-kicking time.

Rating: A-

Battle of Shaker Heights, The

With a junkie for a father and a hippie/artist for a mother, Kelly couldn’t wait until high school to grow up, so you’ll excuse him if he’s a little bit jaded. Not that he’s a bad guy. He’s a smart kid with a razor-sharp wit and when he’s not stocking shelves at the local supermarket, he’s reenacting WWII scenarios on fake battlefields or he’s drooling over authentic memorabilia and gear. But he still has the school bully to deal with. He still has drug addicts and Chinese immigrants sleeping on his couch and eating his food. He still has a dead-end job and a crush on his best friend’s soon-to-be wed sister. He still has problems that battle plans cant handle. Or can theyr

(Minor Spoilers Ahead…..)

Kelly befriends a fellow reenactor with which war is the only thing they have in common. Named Bart, he attends a prep school on the other side of the tracks from Kelly’s modest public domain. Bart’s house is a relative mansion to Kelly’s and his family is wealthy and amicable. Bart is everything Kelly wants to be, but never will. Still, the two form some sort of odd couple and, together, they strike up a plan to deal with at least one of Kelly’s reoccurring problems: the high school bully, Lance.

In a battlefield-tested game plan, the two set up Lance for the embarrassment of his high school career and quite literally catch him with his pants down. Still Kelly must deal with forgiving his parents on his own. He still has to put his pie-in-the-sky infatuation with Bart’s Yale grad sister into perspective. He still has to realize that he’ll never live the same life Bart does. He just has to face reality, but when tragedy and disappointment are as much a part of your life as math homework, it’s not an easy task.

While Beeney won’t direct the film version of her script like the previous Project Greenlight winner did, she did produce a very interesting and creative script for her first pro effort. The story reads like that of a seasoned pro and Beeney does a fantastic job of showing, rather than telling, the characters’ thoughts and developments. The ending is rather anti-climactic and leaves a lot to be desired, but the bulk of the script is enjoyable and I look forward to seeing what she has to offer in the future. The film itself stars Shia LaBeouf of Disney’s “Even Stevens” and the spring Disney film “Holes” and feels like the perfect fit for Kelly’s clever, but awkward teen. Amy Smart (swoon!) plays Bart’s sis Tabby, and Shiri Appleby from “Swimfan” and TV’s “Roswell” plays Kelly’s co-worker and admirer Sarah.

“The Battle of Shaker Heights” won’t be a summer blockbuster and it will more than likely suffer the same quick to video fate that “Stolen Summer” (the original “Project Greenlight” film) did, but it should be another great season watching the film get put together and the film itself should be just quirky enough to warrant another season. This script, by newcomer Erica Beeney, was picked as the winning screenplay of the second season of HBO’s “Project Greenlight.” This script, although not dated, is the version submitted that won her the screenwriting portion of the contest.

Rating: B

Dawn of the Dead

In math class, they teach you that formulas and patterns make up the entire world you live in. From the car you drive to the chair you sit in, x squared * y + 2πr = z to the nth is just important as the air you breathe, in the grand scheme of things. The world would cease to exist without mathematics. And so would gory zombie flicks. Back in 1968, George A. Romero made “Night of the Living Dead” about an outbreak of radiation that brings the dead back to life, thirsty for human flesh. He followed with “Dawn of the Dead” and then “Day of the Dead,” spawning a thousand copycat zombie flicks for generations to come. His basic formula still holds up today: a mysterious element causes the dead to rise, eat the living, making more zombies, forcing the few survivors to hole up somewhere and hatch a clever plan to escape + gore + gore + gore + gore + gore + gore + gore + gore + gore + gore + gore + gore + gore + gore + gore + gore.

Many sequels and updates of the original Dead series have been made in the past three decades, the most recent being a Dawn of the Dead remake by Universal Pictures, starring Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, and Mekhi Phifer. Newcomer Zach Snyder directs the picture penned by Scooby-Doo scribe James Gunn, who makes it blatantly clear that he thinks he is far too good to be doing a script about zombies, but somehow fails to bring anything new or exciting to the table.

We start off in the home of our hero, Ana (Polley), a nurse and loving wife (who, in a brilliant use of foreshadowing, tells us she is afraid of malls) is attacked by her zombie husband. She flees the house and meets up with Kenneth (Rhames) and several other survivors on the run. They find sanctuary from the swarms of flesh-eaters in the local mall where three gangsters have already chosen it as their home. Shortly after their arrival, a semi truck full of survivors makes a run for the mall and adds to the already dismal situation. Inside, they make the mall their home, but it is only a temporary solution. Before long the power goes out, their ammunition dries up, and what food the mall has inside runs out. To make matters worse the zombies keep getting smarter and smarter, finding new ways to breach the security of the powerless mall. Realizing that they are nothing more than sitting ducks, the remaining crew hatches a plan to bust out of the mall and hightail it towards a deserted island, crossing straight through a figurative sea of zombies.

Every type of gory act of violence is covered in this blood fest. Zombies don’t die when you kill them. They just keep coming back no matter how many times you shoot them or run over them, until there is nothing left, but the folks in the mall keep on trying. The zombies, much like lemmings, blindly follow the scent of living flesh, but each round finds new ways to get around the obstacles in front of them. As a result, more and more of the group of survivors are picked off, scene by scene, bite by bite. It’s sad and moving when you realize that there will be no more Heavyset Man or Goth Girl. Catholic Priest and Hippie Woman also fail to make it to the end, in fact, no one without a real name seems to last all that long. The lucky ones, with names like Steve and Michael, as well as Ana and Kenneth, put together two mall shuttles and reinforce them as great arks (aptly names the Pinta and St. Maria) to carry them to the New World. These things never go smoothly though, and the body count doubles as they venture out into the swarm in the final act of the movie.

You expect a movie like this to follow the classic formula, which calls for light usage of character and plot and a heavy amount of violence and ridiculous scenarios, but even for a zombie flick, there is sick amount of gore and atrocity throughout the film. In one scene a pregnant woman bears a zombie child which in turn eats its mother and father. Gunn repeatedly tries to push the already over-stretched boundaries of zombie gore to the limits, in some desperate attempt to separate his work from his predeccesors, but it just comes off as cliched and puzzling as ever. Dawn of the Dead will be a delight for fans of the Zombie/Horror genre and will likely improve the aesthetics with high tech CGI zombies in place of the original globs of makeup. Still, it will take more than some flashy modern update to cement Dawn of the Dead into the annals of movie history.

Rating: C-